'Stand your ground' applies to school bus fights, too

A candlelight vigil for Trayvon Martin is held in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26.  A Florida appeals court has ruled that Florida's "stand your ground'' law can apply to school bus fights as well as fatal shootings.

A boy who got into a fight with a girl on a school bus can claim self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law, an appeals court says.

Florida's "stand your ground" law can apply to kids fighting on a school bus as much as it does to claims of self-defense in deadly shootings, a Florida appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that wouldn't let a boy who got into a fight with a girl claim self-defense under the controversial statute.

The appeals court said the Broward County circuit court judge who found the boy guilty of battery wrongly concluded that stand your ground applied only to the use of deadly force in the protection of one’s home or vehicle.

"The statute is not so limited. In fact, it is extremely broad in its grant of the right of a person to protect himself or herself in any situation where the person is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in a place where the person is entitled to be," the appeals court said in its opinion, issued earlier this month. "Although the trial court’s misgivings of applying it to a fight on a school bus may be well taken, it is not the place of the trial court, or this court, to refuse to apply the plain meaning of the statute."

WHO STARTED IT?

The case involved a fight between a boy and a girl, identified in court documents as T.P. and A.F., respectively. The school bus driver testified she was driving children home from middle school. When the bus stopped, T.P. started to get off, and the girl grabbed his jacket. The girl, who was bigger than T.P., threw the first punch and T.P. fought back, according to the driver.

T.P.’s mother and grandmother got on the bus and tried to stop the fight. The grandmother struck A.F. and then T.P. got off the bus, according to court documents. Sheriff’s deputies arrived and T.P. was arrested.

The girl said T.P. was the aggressor. But the defense argued otherwise and said that under Florida's stand your ground law, passed in 2005, T.P. was lawfully entitled to defend himself. Believing that the law applied only to the defense of home or vehicle, not on a bus, the trial judge denied the motion.

The appeals panel said the law does apply, and ordered the trial court to reconsider the case to determine whether the girl was the aggressor and whether T.P. "was reasonable in his belief that the force that he used against A.F. was necessary to protect himself from great bodily harm."

Florida's "stand your ground" law was thrust into the national spotlight during the case of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who was acquitted earlier this month of second-degree murder in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman did not use the stand your ground law in his defense, although the judge hearing his case cited it in her instructions to the jury.

Florida's law states:

"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

CALLS FOR REVIEW

Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said the appellate court ruling was further evidence that the statute needs to be reviewed.

"What's next? Exemption from school expulsion. The stand your ground statute speaks only to criminal immunity, but, if I were representing a child in an expulsion hearing, I would press the fact that the child was only acting in a way that the law affirmatively protects and it would be inconsistent for a school to punish a child for something the law says he or she can do," Black wrote on The Faculty Lounge blog.

"Of course, this only shows how absurd stand your ground is.  Many schools take the position that when a fight occurs and both students act with violence, there are no innocent parties. In other words, schools expect students to deescalate a situation or be prepared to suffer the consequences. Application of stand your ground to school grounds obviously sends the opposite message."

More than 30 other states have some version of stand your ground.

Alaska became the latest state to join the list when Gov. Sean Parnell signed a stand your ground law in late June, along with other firearm-related bills. Alaska’s law  goes into effect Sept. 19.

President Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, among others, have called for a review of stand your ground laws following the Zimmerman case.

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